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February 11, 2015

Ohio Supreme Court finds multiple constitution flaws in mandatory sex offender sentencing process

The Ohio Supreme Court this morning handed down an interesting constitutional ruling in Ohio v. Bevly, No. 2015-Ohio-475 (Feb. 11, 2015) (available here), striking down a distinctive mandatory sentencing provision for certain sex offenders.  Here is how the majority opinion concludes: 

We hold that because there is no rational basis for the provision in R.C. 2907.05(C)(2)(a) that requires a mandatory prison term for a defendant convicted of gross sexual imposition when the state has produced evidence corroborating the crime, the statute violates the due-process protections of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.  Furthermore, because a finding of the existence of corroborating evidence pursuant to R.C. 2907.05(C)(2)(a) is an element that must be found by a jury, we hold that the application of R.C. 2907.05(C)(2)(a) in this case violated Bevly’s right to trial by jury found in the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.  We reverse the judgment of the court of appeals, and we remand the case to the trial court for imposition of its sentence in accordance with this opinion.

Justice French dissents in an opinion which explains why she thinks the there is rational basis for the sentencing provision struck down by the majority:

When its victims are younger than 13, the crime of gross sexual imposition (“GSI”) carries a mandatory prison term, as opposed to a presumption of prison, so long as “[e]vidence other than the testimony of the victim was admitted in the case corroborating the violation.” R.C. 2907.05(C)(2)(a). I cannot agree with the majority’s conclusion that this corroboration provision simultaneously violates due process, equal protection, and the right to a jury trial. Therefore, I respectfully dissent....

The General Assembly rationally could have concluded that it is unwise or unfair to categorically mandate prison for every person guilty of GSI against a child victim and that more sentencing discretion is appropriate in cases when no evidence corroborated the child victim’s testimony. By reserving the mandatory term (and the associated costs and resources) for convictions with the most evidence of guilt, the General Assembly has made a policy determination that corroboration is relevant to the punishment for child GSI convictions. As the court of appeals recognized in unanimously upholding the statute, “It seems obvious that the General Assembly felt that it was better to start out with a sentence that was not required to be mandatory and to make the sentence mandatory only if there is corroborative proof beyond the alleged victim's testimony that the crime was actually committed.” 2013-Ohio-1352, ¶ 9.

 

Off the top of my head, I cannot think of another sentencing provision in Ohio or anywhere else that a court has found unconstitutional based on rational basis review. Notably, the Bevly opinion indicates in a footnote that it addresses only the defendants federal constitutional claims because "the state constitutional challenges were not raised at the trial or appellate levels." That means the state of Ohio might reasonably try to a press an appeal to the US Supreme Court. It will be interesting to see if it will.

February 11, 2015 at 10:48 AM | Permalink

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Comments

This implies that it is possible to have a conviction with no evidence other than an "alleged victim's testimony". That is what should not be possible. I'm sure they have convicted innocent people.

We know that people are sometimes evil enough to believe that they would sexually assault a child under 13. Why do not believe that a child under 13 is sometimes evil enough, or clueless enough, or mean enough, to lie about such a thing for any number of different reasons?

We can't rely on nothing but the word of an "alleged victim" to convict people. That will unfortunately allow some guilty people to go unpunished. But the alternative is barbaric, un-American, and unacceptable.

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | Feb 11, 2015 11:49:18 AM

You can bet your life that "alleged victim's" lie and prosecutors, CPS, relatives and a few other agency's contribute to the lie. When talking to these falsely accused people, it is simply amazing the way it is done "legally" - the juror's are hand picked by the court employees. Most have never sat on a jury and are swayed emotionally. None (until lately) know their rights as a juror or that there is a "Juror's Handbook". The Attorney's will pick/put in a Public Employee ringer to lead the jury members. The judge appoints four persons to pick juror's from each area to appear for jury duty. The Prosecutor's are aware of a list of juror's that they can count on to win their case, plus the defendant has a court appointed attorney. There is no justice, its all about REVENUE, greed, benefits, and promotion. There are at least 6 people falsely accused in this county that I know of. No judge should be allowed to sit a bench for 20 years.

Posted by: LC in Texas | Feb 14, 2015 12:52:04 AM

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